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The Spoilers (1942)

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The Spoilers (1942)


In The Spoilers it might have been Roy Glennister (John Wayne) and Cherry Malotte (Marlene Dietrich) all the way down the line, except for the introduction of Helen Chester (Margaret Lindsay) into the picture. In the end, Roy will have fought his way back to Cherry after Alexander McNamara (Randolph Scott) is lured into believing that he has won her over. If this is too hard to follow, well, in the movie, it is not nearly as obscure as it sounds. Only in the aftermath of having to put one's gut response into words, if merely to whet the appetite or get the goat of another movie buff, does a movie critique become a hopeless tangle of names and situations.

Roy not only has to literally fight for Cherry, he must also win his mine back after a group of "respectable" thieves, including a judge, in addition to other big shots, use legalese, a frame-up, and a deadly ruse that ultimately backfires, to deprive the rightful owner of his business and simply take over. Maybe it was really like that at one time in Nome, Alaska, where the action takes place. There is plenty of indication throughout that the problems there, as in the old southwest, had to do with the instantaneous, makeshift infrastructures of polite society. Pioneers had to create on the spot the institutions, commercial enterprise, and establishments that insure decent relations without the benefit of historical precedents -- so characteristic of the eastern cities left behind.

All of which is to say that The Spoilers is a mostly nice if somewhat dated western. There are scenes that will make the modern viewer cringe. It is hardly politically correct. In fact, there are sequences that offend. They can only have historical interest now, devoid of entertainment value. So, one selectively recalls a foursome singing a harmonious version of I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen. Or a sea boat captain who takes bribes to either transport or, in some cases, not transport persons to Seattle. Or typical western banter and repartee along with a background piano. Also, fisticuffs and gunfights. But one prefers to forget what is no longer condoned in today's more enlightened cultural environment.

In the final martial ballet that pits Roy against McNamara, the fight spills over from Cherry's decorative rooms to the saloon below, to the wooden sidewalk, and on into the muddy street. As to what came over Roy to overrule Dex (Harry Carey), who in retrospect, has the better judgement, not wanting to give in to Judge Stillman's and Commissioner McNamara's chicanery, only the scriptwriter knows. Roy likes the idea of complying with any investigation, since he is so certain that no court in the world can take his claim away. Further, there is, as he points out, the rule of law and due process in forty-five other states. But, as it turns out, Dex was right to have tried to hold off a swarm of buzzards with his reliable rifle, "Betsy".


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